Canterbury College

Learning by Design: Building Canterbury College in the City 1873-1973. An illustrated history based on the Armson Collins Architectural Drawings Collection

Richard Dacre Harman (1859-1927)


Portrait of Richard Harman and dog, c.1920.

The Harman family originally hailed from Ireland, but emigrated to New Zealand with the Canterbury Association on board the Sir George Seymour in 1850. Richard Dacre Harman was born in New Zealand in 1859, the son of Emma de Renzy and Richard James Strachan Harman. R.J.S. Harman was a civil engineer who had been articled to Mr George and Sir John Rennie of London. He became a prominent local body politician serving on numerous boards and councils, including the Canterbury Provincial Government.

Richard Dacre Harman attended Christ’s College from 1869 to 1877, where he probably came to know his future colleague John James Collins. After completing his schooling, Harman became articled to W.B. Armson, and later joined forces with J.J. Collins to purchase William Armson’s practice in 1887. The firm then became known as Armson Collins and Harman.

R.D. Harman was apparently a keen sportsman. He was a first class cricket representative for Canterbury from 1883 to 1886, as were two of his brothers. Harman also became the New Zealand lawn tennis singles champion in 1891, as well as clinching the doubles championship for several years running with Frederick Wilding, the father of Anthony Wilding. Without any doubt, Harman must have been fit and somewhat immune to pain, as the firm’s history relates that he would use a penny farthing to cycle about the countryside supervising construction work.


R.D. Harman's obituary in the Auckland Star, 1928.

Harman married Alice Sidney Spooner in 1894/1895. Alice Harman was the cooking teacher at Christchurch Girls' High School, and co-authored an important early New Zealand cook book, The New Zealand Domestic Cookery Book in 1900.

Given that Richard Dacre Harman was articled by William Armson, and grew up in the cultural precinct largely designed by Benjamin Mountfort, it is not surprising that he received a thorough grounding in the principles of Gothic design. This is aptly demonstrated in his 1894 design for the second Canterbury Society of Arts (CSA) building, which though plainer than Mountfort’s design for the first building, had the practical inclusion of a sprung dance floor which the CSA used to great advantage. With Harman as a partner, the firm of Collins and Harman built up a considerable reputation for their expertise in Gothic Revival, and established an excellent relationship with Canterbury College as college architects.

Next: Samuel Hurst Seager